Dharma Glimpse by Chris Earle-Storey
In an attempt to improve my fitness I joined the local leisure centre last December. As well as attending gym sessions, I’ve also started to swim again after a 30-year break from the pool. I’m not a strong swimmer and to be honest have found swimming quite hard work after such a long time, but I have been improving gradually with each visit and was starting to feel quite pleased with my progress. Until this morning, that is.
The pool is divided into three sections for lane swimming depending on one’s ability: easy, medium and fast. As I am very definitely in the “easy” class, that’s where I am to be found. I have worked up to doing 24 lengths in half an hour and that is my aim this morning. As I set off on the first length I am feeling good, but within a couple of lengths I become aware of another swimmer coming up on my left and beginning to overtake me: a middle-aged woman with grey curly hair and a determined expression. I observe her swimming action which seems very similar to mine, so how come she is going so much faster? A few lengths later and the same thing happens, this time with an elderly chap sporting goggles and a shiny bald head. I start to feel slightly despondent as he pulls away from me.
When I have finished my 24 lengths I pause for a rest before leaving the pool. My gaze is drawn up to the pool guard sitting atop his tower; my eyesight is not so good these days so I can’t see his face in detail, but I am sure he is observing me. “Look at that old woman – she’s really pathetic at swimming. I wonder why she bothers coming at all,” I imagine him thinking.
As I climb the steps out the pool, my dodgy hip protests at being lifted out of the weightless comfort of the water and my whole body suddenly feels much heavier. I head towards the changing area and pass two young women on their way to the pool, all toned limbs and flat stomachs. They are deep in conversation and do not acknowledge me as I pass. I am painfully aware of my own ageing body as I limp into the shower cubicle.
The warm water is soothing as I stand in the shower. As I soap myself with shower gel and shampoo, my mind takes me back to the pool – but instead of being watched over by a muscled pool guard I imagine Amida Buddha is sitting on the tower, looking down on me as I swim my lengths. Amitabha is not thinking “Look at that Chris with her flabby thighs and bingo wings. Everyone else is putting in some real effort but she’s really not trying at all. She is pathetic!” No: Amitabha is looking down on me with love and compassion, accepting me just as I am, with all my faults and failings, my tendency to self-criticise and to measure myself against others. Amitabha’s light falls on me just as it does on everyone else.
As I sit by the exit to put on my shoes, an elderly man, one of the regulars I’ve got to know over the weeks, sits beside me on the bench. “You looked as if you were enjoying the swim today,” he says. I pause before answering. “Yes,” I say. “Yes, in a strange way I think I did enjoy it.”
The sun is just rising as I leave the leisure centre. I walk out into the light with the light of Amida in my heart.